Prisoners of sugar
By Raùl Zecca Castel
University of Milan
To be born in Haiti, in 80 percent of cases, means being destined to live under the line of extreme poverty. And in the best of cases, evidently not for very long. Life expectancy is barely above 60 years and the infant mortality rate is ranked as one of the highest in the world. The unemployment sits at around 40 percent and four years after the earthquake, which caused more than 300,000 deaths and left one million children orphaned, Haiti continue being the poorest country in the western hemisphere, placed as one of the last countries in the United Nation’s Human Development Index.
So it comes as no surprise then that thousands of Haitians decide to abandon their homeland and loved ones to enter into nearby Dominican Republic, with the hope of finding better living conditions on the other side of the border. However, crossing the border is not an easy task, especially when they lack documents and authorised permits. This is how many start their journey on a sort of Caribbean Calvary marked with violence and pain. The journey that can last several days, sometimes more than a week, is done in small groups.
During their pilgrimage towards hope, the migrants are led by Haitian and Dominican human traffickers, often within the sight of corrupt military police officers who promptly demand their “toll”. On top of that, if they do not have the money to pay, they are sent back.
“We have crossed the borders through the hills, walking…” says Manil, a 33-year-old man, “my feet were worn, bloody… I didn’t know it was like this… I have paid a lot of money, five thousand pesos, to come here… I didn’t know… the man tells me that I would travel by bus, but it wasn’t true, so when we started to walk I tell him that that wasn’t the deal, give me back my money, I tell him, I go back to my country, and he says no, that we were nearly there… and we kept on walking three more days… eight days in total, with nothing, only water, without eating…”
The majority of Haitian migrants don’t know what awaits them once the border has been crossed. The dream of a well paying job and the hope of a new future drive away the worries, making bearable the suffering and the abuses endured during the long journey. But it is a dream destined to be broken very soon. Lack of documents exposes the immigrants to conditions not very different to those that their slave ancestors were subjected to.
The most powerful symbols of this harsh reality are the bateyes, agglomerations of dormitories scattered within the immense sugar cane plantations. These are created to accommodate workers during the cane harvest, the zafra, but with time they have become truly invisible communities, emblems of poverty and marginalisation. An inheritance of the original places that were similar to concentration camps not so long ago, the bateyes are still social and economic ghettos reserved for the Haitian population.
Here is where the human tragedy is perpetrated against the workers forced to survive day by day in conditions on the brink of endurance and human dignity. Crowded into these big dormitories, men, women and children share narrow and run-down spaces, without window, electricity and running water, sleeping on the floor or on improvised bunk beds on foam mattresses. They are the prisoners of sugar, helpless victims of a system of work based on deception and deprivation.
Read the full story on Caribbean news Now
Category: DR News |